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Challenging The Desert Rock Coal Plant

San Juan County in New Mexico.

San Juan County in New Mexico.

Photo courtesy of Kent Kanouse

What’s at Stake

Earthjustice successfully challenged the EPA’s approval of a massive new coal plant on Navajo land in New Mexico that would be one of the worst polluters in the nation if built.


Desert Rock Energy Facility, a 1,500-megawatt coal-fired power plant on Navajo land in San Juan County, New Mexico, would have become the nation's sixth largest emitter of carbon dioxide. The facility would dump another 12.7 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year and raise ozone levels in an area that is already at or near national ambient air quality standard limits. Burning coal at the plant will also add to the high levels of mercury to the atmosphere and to local rivers and lakes, many of which are already subject to fish consumption advisories and home to highly endangered fish. Mercury is also a powerful neurotoxin that can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune systems of people of all ages.

When the Environmental Protection Agency’s approved an air quality permit for construction of Desert Rock, in northwest New Mexico, the agency failed to analyze Desert Rock's emissions of particulate matter, mercury and carbon dioxide and failed to impose the strictest level of pollutant controls required under the Clean Air Act. The agency also neglected to consult with wildlife agencies regarding potential impacts from the large increase in coal-plant pollutants on endangered fish and plants in the area in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

If built, Desert Rock would have overwhelmed efforts of New Mexico and neighboring states to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, control regional haze in national parks and wildernesses, and would further poison the air, land and water of local communities. Earthjustice helped lead the challenge to EPA’s approval of this dangerous new coal plant and successfully convinced EPA to reconsider its decision. To date, the plant has not received a permit and is not likely to move forward.

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